Friday, August 13, 2010

"2012" (2009)

Starring John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Amanda Peet
Written by Roland Emmerich and Harold Kloser
Directed by Roland Emmerich

No one destroys the world like Roland Emmerich.  The man has made a career out of big budget destruction, essentially throwing the same plot over and over again at the audience, but with ever more impressive sequences of carnage and chaos.  Emmerich's first major splash (not to belittle the successes of "Universal Soldier" and "Stargate", though) was with "Independence Day," possibly the greatest popcorn alien invasion movie yet created.  Since then, he's given the world "Godzilla," "The Patriot," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "10,000 B.C."

"2012" is easily Emmerich's biggest film to date.  While "Independence Day" limited its destruction to mankind's major cities, "The Day After Tomorrow" decimated the northern hemisphere with the onset of a new Ice Age.  Here, Emmerich tackles worldwide destruction on a new kind of scale, physically rewriting the entire face of the planet.  Entire parts of the Earth's crust collapse.

The story, such as it is, concerns Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), author of an end of the world novel that has never seen much in the way of success.  He picks up his kids from his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) for a camping trip at Yellowstone.  There, he is told by a government geologist Adriam Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) that the entire area has become unstable.  Meanwhile, the President (Danny Glover) tells his daughter Laura (Thandie Newton) about something Helmsley had discovered years earlier: the world will end in 2012, due to massive eruptions of solar flares affecting the Earth's core. 

In the woods, Curtis meets a crazy conspiracy theorist radio host Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who informs him about how the end is nigh.  Curtis puts the pieces together and realizes that Charlie is correct, and attempts to get his ex-wife and her new husband, along with their kids, to safety, believing that the US government has created ships that will ferry them to safety. 

What begins then is a race against time as Curtis and his family attempt to cross pretty much the entire world (which is falling apart, literally, around them) to safety.  Helmsley, meanwhile, attempts to save as many people as possible, and is astonished and disgusted when he realizes that all the seats on the arks to safety have been sold to billionaires. 

"2012" is loaded with cliches.  In fact, there's not a single original idea or character in the entire thing.  Ther'es nothing here you haven't seen before... except for the incredible sequences of worldwide destruction.  The characters, such as they are, are paper-thin.  They all exist pretty much to be in danger, and to react to the danger around them.  A lot of the comedy comes from this as well; characters expressions while things fall apart and explode around them are downright hilarious.  Stereotype characters like a Russian business tycoon and his douchey children are also bizarrely funny, delivering ridiculous lines in even more ridiculous accents that can't be anything but funny.

The unintentional comedy of "2012" is what saves it as much as its impressive effects sequences.  Occasionally, the intentional comedy works, too.  Woody Harrelson's character Charlie is a riot.  He amps up the crazy, playing Charlie with a wild-eyed glee that makes me wish he lived longer.  But I suppose in a movie loaded with such excess, the less-is-more approach to this character is probably best, since he doesn't stick around long enough to outlast his usefulness. 

The action sequences get bigger and more ridiculous as the film goes on as Curtis and his family narrowly escape death and destruction at every turn, each time in an ever more ridiculous method of transportation beginning with a limousine and moving on to win-engine planes, RVs, cargo planes and finally cruise ships.  Thankfully, "2012" doesn't take itself particularly seriously, or even ask the audience to.  Part of the problem that sank "The Day After Tomorrow" was that it tried to be too much, while "2012" has more wisecracking ridiculousness to throw around, as though Emmerich realized that he's a master of schlock and decided to embrace it this time around.

The film does run out of steam by the time the climax rolls around and the action shifts from escaping worldwide destruction to "Can John Cusack close the door to the cruise ship?"  This sequence just isn't as fun or thrilling as what came before, and which characters live or die at this point doesn't seem particularly interesting.  "2012" is also overlong, clocking in at a whopping two hours and forty minutes, much of which could easily be cut, especially from the beginning of the film which is almost entirely too much setup and too many characters.  

Ultimately, your mileage may vary with "2012" depending on your tolerance for idiocy, absurd science and cliche.  If you can let it, you can disappear in "2012," laughing at all the things in it that are completely, utterly ridiculous, and have a good time.  The visual effects are huge, detailed and impressive, and well worth watching on their own.  If you can't stomach how totally stupid it is, then you should probably avoid it at all costs.